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‘I felt like I had a big responsibility’

‘I felt like I had a big responsibility’

Amy Winehouse is back in the spotlight with director Sam Taylor-Johnson’s new film, Back to black. The biopic looks at the late British singer’s rise to fame, personal struggles and the making of her Grammy-winning album of the same name. Both Taylor-Johnson and star Marisa Abela, whose stunning on-screen transformation into Winehouse has been praised by critics, say it was crucial to remove any ‘judgement’ as they immersed themselves in this film.

“I felt like I had a huge responsibility in making this film on so many different fronts,” Taylor-Johnson tells Yahoo Entertainment. “One of the things I had to keep coming back to was not having any judgments, you know? And had to balance that in a very careful way so that I could kind of stay in her perspective.”

Winehouse, who died aged 27, was known for her unique, powerful voice as she produced hits such as ‘Valerie’ and Back to black. She won five Grammys in 2008, including Record and Song of the Year for “Rehab” and Best New Artist. But Winehouse’s critically acclaimed album Back to black coincided with an incredibly tumultuous time in her life.

Winehouse battled alcohol and drug addictions. She was hospitalized several times, which is not shown in the film. Her volatile relationship with husband Blake Fielder-Civil was tabloid fodder, and the British press documented almost every moment of the singer’s downward spiral. Winehouse eventually broke free from crack and heroin, but died of alcohol poisoning in 2011.

Early reviews of Taylor-Johnson’s film from Britain criticized the way it handled some of the difficult subject matter, such as eventual ex Fielder-Civil being portrayed as a sympathetic “addiction promoter.” Yahoo asked Taylor-Johnson how she decided to creatively deal with humanizing Winehouse and Fielder-Civil to a degree, while staying true to the addictions they suffered from.

“Whatever our judgments about the situations she found herself in or the people she loved, it was irrelevant to the story I was telling because we were inside her creative soul as she made one of the best albums of our time ” said Taylor-Johnson. explains. “[Amy] was so open about her feelings and so authentic with them and had no judgment, and so I had to be in her truth and put my feelings aside and everyone else’s judgments as well and just go back to the music, and go back to how she felt felt constantly. So in a way it was obviously very challenging, but quite easy because she was [straightforward] in this way.”

Taylor-Johnson has said that the paparazzi are the villains in the film. The tongue-in-cheek relationship between Winehouse and Fielder-Civil was fixated in the press, and the Fifty Shades of grey director has spoken about how her own marriage to actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson, 24 years her junior, has come under scrutiny online. Yahoo asked if any part of Winehouse’s story resonated with her during the making of the film.

“No, not in that way at all. I don’t feel like there’s a comparison that I just felt like making. … I think a comparison is that as a woman I think things are taken apart more forensically,” replies she. .

Taylor-Johnson continues, “So in that sense I just have to see who she was as a creative soul and everything else is everyone’s judgment,” she replies. “Let’s celebrate her.”

Abela agrees with Taylor-Johnson about the importance of leaving judgment at the door. The British actress, who sings in the film, says she trained ‘intensely’ for four months prior to filming. Although she knew Winehouse’s story, she says she was surprised when she discovered “the intensity of” that “Amy’s feeling.”

Marisa Abela stars as Amy Winehouse in director Sam Taylor-Johnson’s ‘Back to Black’. (Courtesy of Dean Rogers/Focus Features)

“The feeling that the things she really wanted in life and the relationships she had that were important to her were relationships that she thought she would die if they didn’t exist. The intensity of that feeling was something to discover and something to really become a reality,” she tells Yahoo. “What Sam was talking about: that’s not about judging… it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. If this person leaves me, I might die and that’s a real feeling. My job is to be authentic about that .If that’s true, how Amy felt, that’s what we wanted to show.”

Back to black will be in cinemas from Friday 17 May.



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